So, you get your acceptance letter in the mail. You cry, you laugh, you jump around in happiness, and before long you’re making a list of all the different scarves you want to try to fit into your tiny dorm closet. Thinking about your dorm life gets you excited, however, one troubling issue comes to mind: what will your roommates think of you?
Now usually, this is a fairly common question that a lot of people might think about before having their first college dorm experience. Throw in a misunderstood religion and a hijab to the mix, and you get a lot of anxiety about whether your roommates will freak out about you and whether you will have to reassure them that you’re actually a normal human being. Well, having been through that very same thought process myself, and based off of my personal experiences since coming to UCLA, I bring to you the 5 stages of meeting your roommates: Bruin hijabi edition.
1) The Profile Picture: This is the very first time your roommates will find out about you. You finally get that long awaited email disclosing the information of your roommates, and before long all of you have emailed each other with simple introductions and excited greetings. Naturally, the next step is to begrudgingly give them your Facebook information so they could add you. You wait for them to stalk you, take one look at your profile picture, and fire off the inevitable “ARE YOU GOING TO BLOW ME UP?” email, but instead you get asked questions like “Where are you from?” and “Should we get a mini-fridge?” so you sit back in relief, hoping that they like you and glad that they have time to get used to the idea of having a Muslim roommate. At least you wouldn’t have to spring it on them, like you would have to on your orientation roommate. Which brings us to..
2) The Awkward Reveal: You did it, you’re finally at UCLA, and the bitter realization of how hilly the campus actually is has hit- but you don’t care, you’re at orientation! You spend the first day finding your New Student Advisor, walking around campus in awe of all the beautiful buildings, and getting briefed on classes and enrollment. By the end of the day, you’re happy but exhausted, and head back to your dorm room, change into your sleepwear and go to sleep. The next morning, you wake up, greet your roommate, introduce yourself, and then awkwardly announce that you’re going to be wearing a scarf once you get dressed. There really is no correct way to reveal this, so you might as well just be humorous about it. “Dont freak out,” you might say, “but I’m going to be wearing a scarf on my head when you see me outside of this room.” You will be a little weirded out by the fact that you have to reveal this to a person, but will eventually be relieved when your roommate simply nods and says, “Okay,” instead of running out of the room screaming.. They might, however, screen you with some TSA-level questions.
3) The Interview/Interrogation: This is the part where school has officially begun, you’ve moved in, you and your roommates have settled down, and they’re starting to feel comfortable enough with you to ask some questions that plague them everytime they see you put on a scarf and leave the room, or take it off when you come back. You will deal with ones as straightforward as “When do you have to wear a headscarf and when do you not?”, ones that require a little more explanation, like “So, why, exactly, do you wear it?”, some outright strange ones like “Does your dad get to see your hair?”, “What about your brother?”, and the fan favorite: “Have you ever had to take a shower with it on?” You will have to answer their questions with patience and understanding. Sometimes you will be surprised with how little people know about your religion and how many false notions they had about it, but mostly you will be pleasantly surprised at the accepting nature of not just your roommates, but most of the people you meet.
4) The ‘Jokes’: At some point after you have settled in and the year has begun, you will feel that a nice and mutual understanding has emerged between you and your roommates. They don’t quite understand everything about Islam yet, but feel safe enough to ask, and you have become patient enough to answer all their questions, teach them a few things on your own, or even have a healthy discussion about religion in general. You think all is well with the world, until of course, the good-humored jokes start. “Oh no!” you might hear your roommates say one day, “We better clean out the trash, or *insert your name here* might blow us all up! Ha-Ha!” Now you definitely do understand that they meant well, but this is the moment in which one must set some general lines and limits as to what other people can say. You might think that such jokes and comments are good, considering that they make light of some dumb stereotypes, or situations like these might be very uncomfortable for you and might let other people think that saying these things is okay to all Muslims. Communication is definitely key, and mentioning something the next time the occasion arises is a good idea. A personal favorite is: “Hey, would you mind vacuuming the floor or taking out the trash? Also not calling me a terrorist would be great. I’ll tidy my side of the room after I get back from my lecture. Thanks!”
5) The Acceptance: This is it. You have reached the golden stage. You feel comfortable in your own skin, your roommates feel comfortable around you, and you are generally having a great time. Your roommates slowly start to understand you as a hijabi: they text you if they are bringing any male people over, and give you time to dress if a male floormate happens to knock on the door. They understand your boundaries, you understand theirs, and life is great. You will come to appreciate that although no one can know anything off the bat, some people are truly open to learning about new things and capable of respecting other people’s beliefs. You will be glad and thankful towards your roommates for not being close-minded and buying into all the negative hype, but you will also become proud of yourself for knocking down some stereotypes.
So all in all, next time you get an email from some future roommates asking to add you on Facebook, just sit back, post up a nice, non-threatening selfie, and relax. Know that most people can come to understand a foreign concept if they are given time and the correct information.